PORTLAND — The statewide wind power opposition group Friends of Maine Mountains will have to shut down if it can’t restructure its five-member board of directors within four months, as part of a settlement with Maine’s attorney general.
Chris O’Neil, public affairs director for the group, said the process of replacing board members — including himself — is under way and said the group will not shut down.
“The measures that we agreed to are largely things that improve any organization,” O’Neil said.
In addition to replacing four of five members on its board of directors, the settlement requires the group to adopt stricter financial reporting requirements, specific conflict of interest provisions and have one member of the board who is not able to write checks take charge of reconciling the group’s monthly financial statements.
The settlement follows an investigation into potential conflicts of interest within the organization, which Attorney General Janet Mills opened one year ago.
Mills’ investigation alleged O’Neil and the group’s president, Rand Stowell, exerted control over the other board members by forming a two-member “executive committee,” which in January 2014 voted out three of the other board members and elected a new third director.
The attorney general alleged the other members were not properly notified about the meetings at which they were kicked off the board.
Executive committee members Rand Stowell and O’Neil led that effort, according to the attorney general’s office, and on the next day approved a legal settlement with Saddleback Ridge Wind from which they both received money.
As a neighboring property owner, Stowell had an individual lawsuit against Saddleback wherein O’Neil represented him, and the attorney general’s office alleged O’Neil later suggested the board approve paying his company past-due consulting fees of $30,000 from the Saddleback settlement money.
O’Neil said the members removed from the board were voted out “with cause” and disputed other allegations, as noted in the settlement, but said the group is moving on.
“We take issue with a lot of those so-called allegations, but it’s behind us and it’s no sense getting into a fight with the attorney general of the state of Maine,” O’Neil said. “We do what she wants and we continue on with our mission.”
The group has been a major player in opposing wind turbine projects in the state, pursuing lawsuits before environmental regulators, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court and the Maine Public Utilities Commission in an effort to stop or slow land-based wind power development in the state.
That settlement calls for O’Neil, Stowell and the third board member they elected, Daryl Sleight, to resign within four months as the group works to recruit and elect four new members. Sleight can remain as director of the group during that time and will resign at the same time the board appoints a fifth member to replace him.
The settlement allows Stowell to remain on the board, but he cannot be an officer of the organization for at least two years.
O’Neil said the group has not yet recruited any new members to serve on the board of directors but said he expects the group will be able to do so.
If the group cannot restructure within four months, the settlement states the group’s directors should dissolve the organization.
The settlement also calls for the group to make changes to its bylaws and operations, eliminating the board’s executive committee and requiring more detailed accounting for its legal, accounting, lobbying, fundraising and expert witness expenditures.
The settlement also calls for the group to notify any bank where it has accounts that any fund withdrawals will require the signatures of two specified officers, board members or designees.
While setting out a four-month timeline to comply, the attorney general’s office agreed not to take legal action to enforce its settlement until six months from the day it was signed, Feb. 26.